Senate approves insurance exchange - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

Senate approves insurance exchange

Measure goes to Gov. Butch Otter for his signature

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Posted: Friday, March 22, 2013 12:00 am

The Idaho Senate approved a proposed state-based health insurance exchange on Thursday, after a debate in which it was alternately bashed as federal tyranny and praised as protecting Idaho's sovereignty.

"It was very emotional debate today on the floor," said Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene. "There's no question that everyone that debated had their own perspective."

But Goedde, who served on a committee investigating the best implementation of the Affordable Care Act, was pleased to see the bill pass. He lauded improvements like increased accountability that the House had added to the legislation.

"If you posed the question to Idaho citizens whether they want a state exchange or federal exchange, the answer overwhelmingly is state exchange," Goedde said. "There still are individuals here who believe that somehow we can sit back and do nothing, and nothing will happen. I don't think that's within the realm of possibility."

The bill now goes to Gov. Butch Otter, who sponsored the measure and said he'll sign it into law.

After that, the real work begins with implementing the state-run online exchange by the Oct. 1 deadline, Goedde said.

"The advantage is we've got a number of states ahead of us, and my understanding is we can piggyback on all the work they've done," Goedde said, estimating that implementation will cost $20 million. "That helps."

Unlike two dozen Republican governors in other states, Gov. Otter backs such an exchange run by a state-created, nonprofit corporation. He argues it will be cheaper and more responsive to Idaho residents and better for insurers based in Idaho.

Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier, contended that adopting a state-run online marketplace for individuals and small businesses to buy insurance, rather than accepting a federal one, better protects Idaho from a single-payer system he fears is the ultimate goal of President Barack Obama's health insurance overhaul.

What's more, he said, the bill approved by a 23-12 vote includes provisions for Idaho to exit if courts eventually overturn the 2010 law. Many Idaho Republicans continue to hope that will happen, despite a June 2012 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding its constitutionality.

"If that happens, we don't even have to take any actions to get out of this mess - it's already done right here," Tippets said. "I wish we could keep the Affordable Care Act from being enacted. I don't see any way."

The final vote was unchanged from the Senate's Feb. 21 tally on a similar bill.

Since then, the House has added requirements, including competitive-bidding for contractors seeking to run the exchange; gun-rights protections for participants; and an expanded, 19-member board that includes three legislators - two from the majority party and one from the minority - with voting rights. Its meetings would have to be streamed over the Internet, for the public to see. The revised bill was returned to the Senate, which had to consent to the changes.

Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d'Alene, voted in favor of the bill last week in the House.

"I certainly believe the state being involved is a far better option and better for our state sovereignty than allowing the feds to take over our market," Malek told The Press.

On Thursday, foes of the exchange acknowledged they were unlikely to alter last month's vote but still spent about three hours trying.

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, predicted adopting a state exchange would attach Idaho to the strings of "the federal puppeteer." Such a relationship would eventually have to be undone after people realize it's too expensive and begins to collapse under its own administrative weight.

"My heart, my mind and my soul believes that this is the wrong thing for Idaho," Fulcher said.

Otter, a Republican critic of the federal government, says a state exchange will involve fees for 177,000 expected participants that are estimated at a third of the federal cost.

Opponents, however, counter that the state has no idea what the plan would cost.

Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene and an insurance broker, said the governor's talk of protecting Idaho-based insurers such as Blue Cross of Idaho and Regence Blue Shield is misplaced. Lobbyists for both companies worked for the establishment of a state exchange.

Nonini said the companies are all flourishing, having accrued hundreds of millions of dollars in reserves while increasing the cost of premiums.

"We hear in debate that we're going to protect Idaho businesses by doing a state exchange," Nonini said. "These companies, whether they are insurers or those providing medical care, are doing quite well on their own."

Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said the question isn't about the merits of Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act but rather what is the best way to adopt a key provision of the federal law over which Idaho has no control.

"This is a step forward - it's not just words on a paper - to protect Idaho citizens, Idaho consumers, Idaho jobs, to protect our rights as Idaho citizens so we don't acquiesce to the federal government," Cameron said.

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • heatherfeather posted at 10:45 am on Fri, Mar 22, 2013.

    heatherfeather Posts: 297

    Relax. It's a toothless mandate. Ignoring it will result in some STRONGLY WORDED LETTERS and nothing more.

  • The Simple Truth posted at 9:18 am on Fri, Mar 22, 2013.

    The Simple Truth Posts: 563

    oh, snap

  • mister d posted at 7:31 am on Fri, Mar 22, 2013.

    mister d Posts: 1531

    Non profit is a sly name for many companies, it just depends who gets the profits I guess. I knew a nurse supervisor at Group Health who said her job was the best paying job she ever had. The company sent her all over the nation to "trainings" (vacations) and she was living the life. I know a current Group Health nurse who works there part time to supplement her Idaho teaching job. The teaching job she loves, the nursing job pays the bills. Idaho has done nothing to protect Idaho,, no surprise is it.

  • Why Not posted at 5:50 am on Fri, Mar 22, 2013.

    Why Not Posts: 4648

    Protect the oversized profits and ”bureaucracies” of Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Executive salaries in the tens of millions and average state CEO salaries approaching $2 Million each, yup they are non-profits looking out for you and their internal employee salaries aren’t all that bad either.

  • Why Not posted at 5:32 am on Fri, Mar 22, 2013.

    Why Not Posts: 4648

    Personally I try to look beyond political hyperbole and prefer to look at what the potential effects politics has on people. This rush to a state health exchange does Nothing to protect the people from the Many-Many unknowns hidden in the ACA. So many the federal government doesn't even understand how this beast will ultimately be implemented or how much it will cost you. What I do know, this state exchange is all about buffering the profits of and the services (crumbs) Blue Cross and Blue Shield will offer their captive customers in Idaho. Thank you Bob Nonini, you know what you are talking about. Governor Otter doesn’t care. He’s got his fat federal retirement, but Frank Henderson and Luke Malek Election Day is coming.

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